Tyson Morrill ’19G Protects the Watershed

Tyson Morrill ’19G became director of conservation for the Squam Lakes Association shortly after earning his master’s degree in biology. His research on brook trout movement and demographics has had equally lasting impacts on the Beebe River watershed, the local community, and Morrill’s promising future.

With a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology, Morrill came to PSU in search of a graduate program with a low student-teacher ratio. “I wanted to be in a rural area while having the capability to work on a large-scale research project with the people who live and work right in that very community,” says Morrill.

Tyson Morrill ’19G recording results from fish sampling

Plymouth State University’s collaborative, hands-on approach to learning, along with its proximity to the Beebe River watershed, presented a unique opportunity to do just that. Morrill decided to research a decades-long problem: obstructed brook trout passage on five Beebe River tributaries pre-restoration.

The Beebe River extends from the southern White Mountains to the Pemigewasset River north of Plymouth. “Tyson pioneered our work in the Beebe River watershed,” says Morrill’s Co-advisor and Professor Brigid O’Donnell. “He helped us better understand the wild brook trout populations present, and he worked with our partners to identify ways in which we can protect and sustain these fish for generations to come.”

“His work paved the way for what has now become a Long-Term Ecological Monitoring and Education (L-TEME) site for Plymouth State University,” adds Co-advisor and Professor Amy Villamagna. “He laid the groundwork for our long-term assessments of brook trout in the region and in response to restoration efforts.”

Over the course of a few years, restoration efforts put watershed land into a conservation easement, replaced five undersized culverts with full span bridges, reconstructed five miles of road, and installed 50 culverts. This provided greater access for forest management, improved water quality throughout the watershed, mitigated flooding downstream, and lessened the impacts of erosion.

Tyson electrofishing alongside NH Fish & Game biologists

The restoration project removed barriers, enabling brook trout to swim up and downstream and to reach habitats that were inaccessible for over 50 years. “The majority of the watershed has been restored due to this project,” says Morrill. “This allows the fish to persist within the watershed and within the state.”

Collaborative efforts among the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, the Pemi Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Conservation Fund, and PSU helped shape these outcomes. In the field, Morrill’s project brought together graduate students, undergraduate research assistants, alumni, and faculty, many of whom are still involved in the project. These partnerships are common for PSU graduate programs and create a profound ripple effect, extending out into and beyond the local community.

“Student research provides technical assistance to our local off-campus partners while enabling students to pursue avenues of interest,” says Villamagna. “Tyson’s project and the relationships he cultivated are bricks in the foundation of PSU’s scholarship and service. They enhance our local community by building a network of partners that persists long after a single project.”

Tyson holding a wild Brook Trout that he recently tagged, about to be released

“I was the liaison among PSU, state and federal agencies, and environmental groups,” says Morrill. “A lot of planning takes place to bring stakeholders together to work toward a common goal. That part of my project was challenging, but it readied me for the director of conservation position.”

The Squam Lakes Association strives to maintain Squam watershed health through water quality studies, invasive species removal, contaminant remediation, and related efforts. As part of his new role, Morrill recruits and trains volunteers and AmeriCorps members who direct community education and awareness programs.

“We wouldn’t be able to complete our mission without the help of volunteers,” says Morrill. “I’m thankful for my time at PSU because it taught me how to lead both projects and people. I did research with real-world implications and I see those skills and experiences reflected in my role now.”

“Tyson stands out because he is able to talk to anyone, comfortably, and can bridge the gap between people with different perspectives and viewpoints, but who share deep interests in conservation,” adds O’Donnell. “He has a deep concern for protecting wild populations, in particular wild brook trout.”

This care comes from a lifelong love of hunting, fishing, and trapping. Morrill feels his hobbies dovetail well with his work and that sportspeople have a unique opportunity to advocate for the environment. New Hampshire Fish and Game positions are funded by licenses, for example, and as the youngest trapper education instructor in the state, Morrill makes it his mission to teach ethical sporting.

“Harvesting animals while working to improve habitat for that same species gives you a more rooted approach,” says Morrill. “I get to teach people about environmental planning and stewardship through both my roles as director of conservation and as a sportsman. That’s what it’s all about—anything we can do to make a difference.”